A Little Girl Lost
The Town of Light is a walking simulator that takes you though the ruins of a World War 2 era mental asylum in Italy. Within you find the thoughts and recollections of one of its patients and bare witness to the kind of tragedy that language cannot hope to adequately express. Even thinking about it now some weeks after finishing leaves no words, just an apoplectic, tear-stained rage. The Town of Light isn’t so much a game, but a testament to how casually lives are destroyed for the sake of our own precious convenience.
It starts off very low key, almost tediously so, with a simple arrival at an overgrown complex of buildings. I gave up on it with the Xbox demo a number of months ago due to initial boredom, however as you press on and slowly move through the early moments things start to become clearer. Here was a site of profound misery, compounded by the thought that those who ran the place genuinely believed they were doing good. Some were of course, but those acts, those precious little touches of compassion and warmth are what make everything else so much more unconscionable.
To avoid spoiling matters is to avoid talking about that which makes the experience what it is. As for what you actually do in the game it is a very simple case of exploring and interacting with objects in the environment. There are some very light puzzles to bypass but otherwise it is for all intents and purposes a device for learning a little more about our species’ long, tortured struggle to understand the wounds of the mind, and to somehow heal them.
It examines the relationships between patients, staff and their families along with the wider society that has helped to create this wretched history. It uses patient records, doctor’s notes and journal entries to provide the raw information, with an artistic flourish in some scenes displayed through sketches and drawings to give your imagination a taste of what it might have been like.
It’s hard going emotionally; when you realise that the story is based on a real life it does nothing but highlight the profound level of shame that such things could have been allowed, even encouraged to happen. Oh, but we know better now, don’t we? If only.